Guided Tours Highly Recommended

My Lovely trip to Italy was a guided tour provided to me from Trafalgar Tours and I would highly recommend it, especially for visiting a destination for the first time. Worry-free travel is a main reason.

A tour like this is conducted with a guide that is local, that knows the area and the information for each experience. You are chauffeured by luxury buses and the groups are no more than 40 people. The properties are 4 to 5 star and city central. The most authentic meals are provided.

“Doing it on your own” does provide a level of privacy, but there is so much that can be missed. Who would have thought to go to Perugia to see actual weaving, or go to a Olive Grove/Vineyard/19th Century Villa to have hand-made pasta made for you by an Italian countess. Not to mention cut-the-line tickets at the Vatican, which were all included, saved waiting in line for hours just to get inside.

I believe the whole experience was made so much richer by all these components and I would most certainly travel like this again to another destination.

Finding My Love for Italy

I’m so happy to have had the opportunity and the pleasure of visiting some of the amazing top cities of Italy, and discovered I am so very much in love with this destination. The sights old and new, the smells, the food, the wine, and of course the people all make me close my eyes, smile and wish I were back in this soulful place.

As I arrived into Rome, the first thing that really stood out is that even though it was October, it was 80 degrees … how wonderful! I had 3 sweaters I should not have brought along, but worse things have happened. I was on a guided tour of Italy and we started with taking a bus to a restaurant for an authentic pizza dinner. Of course, the sights were amazing on the way. The Colosseum, The Pantheon, the Government center all took your breath away. Where did the archeology and technology come from in ancient Rome? Not only were the buildings functional, but they were also beautiful and artistic.

Like the adage says, “When in Rome…” That evening we were treated to a wood-fire baked authentic pizza dinner. The smells of the fresh made sauce and the creamy mozzarella on a crispy crust filled the restaurant with deliciousness and warmth, like mama’s house, or was that the Chianti?

Day two brought our visit to the Vatican. The architecture and the art in every corner were spectacular, whether modern or ancient. I especially appreciated Michelangelo’s fresco ceiling and I was humbled at the “Touching the hand of God” painting. I was being silly but thought the Pope has a great job to be able to work and live here. Other grand pieces I enjoyed was the huge pineapple staircase outside in the courtyard and Bramante’s stepless spiral staircase on the inside.

Saint Peter’s Basilica was exquisite. I normally go to mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul, MN, so I am used to a huge church, but not like this. It is about 4 times the size with gold craftsmanship and porcelain tiling all over everything, even the ceiling. The paintings were larger than life all celebrating God and his disciples. No matter what religion you are, you will appreciate the hard work people did bringing this place to life.

Next on the itinerary was driving through the classic Tuscan countryside with the tall Cypress trees to get to the College of Preugia where we were greeted warmly by Marta, one of the last of the family textile weavers in all of Italy. Her studio was a 12th century church that housed 6 full-sized looms that were big enough to make blankets. After Marta gave us a lesson of how to set up a loom and to weave, I learned that the weaving was the easy part. The tough part was the details that go in to setting up the loom precisely to create patterns that tell a story, griffins, grape vines, falcons, fountains, made me truly appreciate the Italian art in this form that was being created before my eyes.

Florence was our next stop. Again, the sights from the familiar landscape of the city made me smile. The square was so fun and alive with people, and churches and shops and street vendors. A major feature of the area is the Duomo. (The famous domed church.) With its massive size and detail, I was in awe. Florence is known for its quality leather products so of course, I picked up a couple of handbags from the street vendors. Florence is where I had my first taste of lavender gelato in Italy. I don’t know if I can have gelato anywhere else when I started at the top.

That evening was a memory I will never forget. Our group was taken to an Italian villa and farm owned by an actual Italian Countess named Giada. The villa has been in the family since the 19th century and is still producing Olives, Olive oil and wine. I was in heaven.

After a Prosecco greeting in the courtyard of the Villa, we were given a tour of this amazing building and then settled in for some of Giada’s cooking. What an honor. It was a white linen dinner that started with a handmade dish of ribbon pasta, then salad and roasted chicken that fell off the bone. She finished the meal with a fresh baked limoncello cake. Delicioso! What a lovely evening with great food and new friends.

On to Bologna! This was a city filled with charm and vibrant sights and sounds of the Bologna Marketplace. There were fresh fish markets, bakeries, fruit stands, meat shops, and fashion houses for as far as the eye could see! For lunch I had the best pasta bolognaise I have ever tasted, alfresco with red checkered tablecloth and just watched the people of Bologna go by.

Off to Murano and the Vetreria Artistica Colleoni (Murano glass Company) for a lesson in glass blowing! Blown glass is another art that is coveted in Italy. From the most delicate pieces of jewelry, to sculptures, to the most spectacular chandeliers that are famous around the world, glass blowing is a skill that is made up of technique, speed and talent. The showroom just sparkled with color and light of the different pieces that could have been purchased.

The last stop was the best for last … AAAH, Venice. Our group was there on one of the rainiest days I have ever seen and still was a glorious experience. The view of St. Mark’s Square, the canals, the gondolas, the cobblestone streets and sculptures created what every photo I have ever seen conveyed, only better. I was there and I was in awe. Everything was so beautiful, even the water taxis! The city was alive with old and new everything and welcoming people everywhere. Walking the bridges was a challenge, but so fun and I captured some great photos and memories I will never forget.

Italy was a dream! I hope that you have the opportunity to visit this beautiful country and I would be happy to assist with the planning.

Italy Honeymoons David Letterman Top 10 Style

When thinking about what is really the draw to Italy for a honeymoon, I found a list of top 10 rated cities in Italy according to TripAdvisor. I believe these are some great options for a romantic honeymoon of a lifetime.

10) PORTOFINO is a high-end fishing community with colorful architecture going up the side of the hill. It is charming and great for many strolls along the waterfront and lovely photo-ops. Portofino is in Northern Italy and close to Genoa.

9) TERRACINA is a beach-goer’s delight. It is a costal town with white sand beaches and blue waters and combines ancient with new architecture and features the Temple of Jupiter. Terracina is approximately 100 miles from Rome and an easy train ride to the beach.

8) TIVOLI is a hillside town featuring gorgeous lush gardens, thermal springs and premier pools. The city features famous hotels residences such as Villa Adriana. If Italian gardens are your interest, Tivoli is an easy 20 miles northeast of Rome.

7) SORRENTO… Shopping, Sights and EATING! Sorrento is world famous costal town in Southwest Italy for earthenware and pottery. It faces the bay of Naples and is home of the Piazza Tasso, a café lined square.

6) TUSCANY. Imagine renting a red Porsche convertible and enjoying the Italian countryside. There is the Leaning Tower of Piza, The architecture of Florence where the David resides, and the coast is known for scuba diving and windsurfing. There is also world famous fashion houses, wineries and the food is world famous.

5) PIEDMONT is a primer area that in the northernmost part of Italy, sharing a border with France and Switzerland. In fact, there are alps on 3 sides of Lake Maggore in Piedmont so the views are stunning. Piedmont is also the home of 170,000 acres of vineyards and known for it’s spas.

4) CINQUE TERRE is built up the side of a cliff so being able to walk steps is a must. It is a charming, quiet city with no cars and is famous for its bakery in the center of town that wafts the fragrance of fresh focaccia bread and is also famous for world famous pesto.

3) THE AMALFI COAST is a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE that starts south of Naples and includes the beach cities of Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Salerno. This is another area to drive your red Porsche along the coastline for catching  beaches, fabulous sunsets and vineyards.

2) ROME. Aah Rome. Where every travel photo depicts its lovely ancient ruins, inter-city markets, churches, café’s and world-class shops. Rome is capital and the heartbeat of Italy.

1) AND THE WINNER IS… VENICE! The charming city made famous by water canals (No roads) and gondolas. From buying chocolate or gelato at Marco Palace buying jewelry on the Rialto Bridge, Venice has the delicious decadence of a city where all of your senses come alive.

Client review of Rome and Sorrento

We had a wonderful trip!! Thank you so much for all your help. You can’t imagine how nice it was to have everything we needed (itineraries, vouchers, etc.) organized and ready to go.

The Grand Paradiso Art was good but the room was tiny (you warned us about that and you were right). The balcony was super spacious and the view was incredible!

We looked at several of the hotels down on the water. While they were gorgeous, we were glad to be “up the hill” a bit. The hotel offered a shuttle service so it was only a 5 minute ride into town.

The Capri excursion was wonderful!! There were 4-5 other couples with us and we got plenty of time on our own to explore the island. Definitely two thumbs up!

The night tour in Rome was one of our favorites too. Jonathan was our tour guide and we really enjoyed him. In fact, we scheduled another tour the following night hoping to get him again.

We quickly got into the habit of sleeping late then heading into town and ended up skipping the pizza and gelato tour.

Thank goodness for the “skip the line” tickets at the Vatican! Holy cow…..the entry line was literally wrapped around the building. The only negative thing about this one was the crowd. The trip through Raphael’s Rooms and the Sistine Chapel was a bit overwhelming because of the crowd but I’m not sure how we could’ve avoided that.

All in all, it was the trip of a lifetime. Thanks again for working so hard to make it special for us! You will definitely be hearing from us again (hopefully soon!) as we look at future vacations.

Charlotte R. Maple Grove


Client Review of Italy and Greece

We had a fantastic trip all the way through.  We both really enjoyed the Insight Vacations motorcoach tour probably more than the cruise because we saw so much more.  However, it was definitely done in the right order because the cruise was much less hectic and it was nice to rest up after the bus tour.  We did most of the Insight extra excursions because they were interesting and you never know if you’ll be back again.  Our Insight tour guide, Karen, was very good as were all the local experts.  Everything was well coordinated and we met a very nice group of people.  We of course enjoyed the extra leg room on the bus.  We were reminded of how much we liked it when we were packed into the shuttle from the Rome airport to the cruise ship.

As far as Royal Caribbean cruise line, it was a good experience.  We were fortunate to have good weather almost all the way; we were unable to stop at Olympia, Greece because of bad storms but we did get to stop instead at Naples on the way back.  Italy was our favorite, especially Venice – it was just so different.  Vatican City was super interesting and would be great to see again at a slower pace. Greece was beautiful and Ephesus, Turkey was definitely the highlight of the cruise although Athens was also fabulous due to the Acropolis.

Acropolis Athens

Acropolis Athens

As you can probably tell, we had a great first trip to Europe and look forward to traveling to a different area in the future. One question, is it always as crowded as we found it to be?  Perhaps that’s just Europe?

Many thanks for making all the arrangements for this great trip, Nora!

Dean & Jane, Blaine, MN.

Missy Skoog’s visit to Florence, Italy!

Florence, the city of the lily, gave birth to the Renaissance and changed the way we see the world. For centuries it has captured the imaginations of travelers, who have come seeking rooms with views and phenomenal art. Florence’s is a subtle beauty—its staid, unprepossessing palaces built in local stone are not showy, even though they are very large. They take on a certain magnificence when day breaks and when the sun sets; their muted colors glow in this light. A walk along the Arno offers views that don’t quit and haven’t much changed in 700 years; navigating Piazza della Signoria, always packed with tourists, requires patience. There’s a reason why everyone seems to be here, however. It’s the heart of the city, and home to the Uffizi—the world’s finest repository of Italian Renaissance art.


Missy Skoog’s visit to Vatican City


Italy Client Review

Hi Cindy!

I had to tell you about how fabulous our trip was.  First of all –  the hotels in Rome and Florence were terrific!  The Albergo del Sol on the Piazza della Rotondo in Rome was wonderful –  a boutique hotel in a historic building in the perfect (!!) location. Literally on the sware facing the Pantheon and within very comfortable walking distance (< 10 blocks) of many other “must see” sights in Rome (trevi fountain, piazza navonna, etc. I will recommend it to all of my friends. I attached a picture of the view out of our window. The windows were triple glazed so there was no trouble with city noise.  We will request this hotel again on our next trip to Rome!

The Antica Torre tournabuoni in Florence is a super deluxe hotel on par with a parador in Spain.  I attached a picture of Arno from the window of one of our rooms and a picture of the view from the terrace outside the breakfast room.  Another hotel perfectly situated for walking to EVERYTHING –  we were maybe 5 minutes from the Duomo, 3 minutes from the Uffizzi and no more than 10 minutes from the Accademia.  The staff were fantastic. This was a very memorable stay! You can recommend it with confidence to anyone wanting a stay in Florence that they will never forget.

And of course we enjoyed the  Ca’ dei Conti as before.

The guide in Rome, Franca, was terrific –  both boys enjoyed her tremendously.  She new exactly how to keep the interest of a 13 year old boy while the rest of use were marveling at the wonders of Italy.

All of the transfers worked exactly as planned except for the transfer from Florence to Venice, which could have been a disaster but ended satisfactorily.  The land portion of the trip ended almost an hour earlier than expected.  The driver simply left us the Piazzale Roma with our luggage with storms threatening saying that we would be picked up later by a water taxi.  (Despite protests!)  Our concerns were heightened by an inability to to contact Avanti tours at first, and when we learned from a helpful citizen that there are actually 3 places in the Piazzale where water taxis collect tours.  (As it turns out, we were left at the wrong one.)  We eventually got through to Avanti and they sent a representative ASAP.  Once we connected with the Avanti representative we were quickly moved to the correct dock and transferred to Ca’ dei Conti before the rain started.  Avanti responded very professionally as soon as we connected and were very apologetic, saying that they will not use that driver again. There is no need to complain to Avanti about their Venice representative, but I would communicate to them that the driver should not be used again.

It was a terrific trip and we made memories that will last a lifetime.  All of us agree that we wouldn’t change a thing and we would do it again in a heartbeat.

Thanks for making it possible!
-Nancy W..

Missy’s trip to Venice Italy

Visitors flock to this canalled wonder for very good reason: Venice is extraordinary, it is magical, and it is worth every cent. Its existence defies logic, but underneath its otherworldly beauty and sometimes-stifling tourism, Venice is a living, breathing, singular city that seems almost too exquisite to be genuine, too fragile to survive the never-ending stream of visitors who have been making the pilgrimage here for 1,500 years.


Missy Skoog in Rome

Rome is a city and special comune in Italy. Rome is the capital of Italy and also of the Province of Rome and of the region of Lazio. With 2.7 million residents in 1,285.3 km², it is also the country’s largest and most populated comune and fourth-most populous city in the European Union by population within city limits. The urban area of Rome extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of around 3.8 million. Between 3.2 and 4.2 million people live in Rome metropolitan area. The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber within Lazio. Vatican City is an independent country within the city boundaries of Rome, the only existing example of a country within a city: for this reason Rome has been often defined as capital of two states.



Italy/Western Mediterranean Cruise

My friends and I spent two nights in Venice before going on a Western Caribbean Cruise on the Splendour of the Seas with Royal Caribbean.  We had a Royal Family Suite which gave us access to the concierge lounge.  The suite had two bedrooms and two bathrooms, one with a tub.  The concierge lounge offered us the concierge service to make dinner reservations,  had a special presentation for shore excursions, and it was a quiet spot to have a continental breakfast, bring your breakfast or lunch from the buffet, and at dinner time, they had d’oeuvres, coffee and drinks.  A very nice perk with a suite.


Venice, Italy

We stayed at a great hotel, Best Western Hotel Olimpia.  The water taxis were on strike, so we took a mini-van to the Piazza Roma.  The Hotel Olimpia was directly across the canal from the Piazza.  The hotel had been completely remodeled and it was beautiful.  The breakfast room overlooks the canal and they offered a nice selection of items daily for breakfast.  If you stay at other hotels in an area that cannot be reached by a water taxi, you will have to drag your suitcases.

We visited the Ca Rezzonico Mansion.   This magnificent palace is now a Museum of 18th century Venice on the Grand Canal.  The building was fully completed in 1758 and is owned by the Venice Town Council since 1935.  It was fascinating to see how people used to live.  We continued on to visit St. Mark’s Cathedral, Doge’s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, Rialto Bridge and Scala del Bovolo.  The Scala del Bovolo is a small palace in Venice, Italy, best known for the external spiral staircase, with a plethora of arches, known as the Scala Contarini del Bovolo (of the snail).  The palace is located in a less-traveled side-street near the Campo Manin, near the Rialto.


Split, Croatia

We took a walking tour in Split with our guide Leo who was an Art Historian.  We walked from the ship into the old walled city where Emperor Diocletian retired.  It was a walled city so the people who lived here were well protected.  The Diocletian Palace had two wells of fresh water which was brought by Roman aqueducts 4 km from the mountains.  People still live in the walled city and the houses are passed down from one generation to the next.  If it is to change hands out of the family, the city must approve it.  Leo was fantastic and very knowledgeable.


Pompeii, Italy

Pompeii was a one hour drive from the ship.  It was great to walk around and see the different areas and things that they had – amphitheaters, homes, shops and the red light district. I love these historical sites.  The shops in Pompeii had metal tracks for the doors to be rolled open on and they had shops which had round holes with wood burning under them and they would set the pots of food on top, making it one of the first fast food shops.  Pompeii had fresh water brought in by aqueducts and delivered by lead pipes.  They said that the Romans actually died of lead poisoning.   You could actually see the ruts in the stones which were made by the chariots.


Sorrento, Italy

After Pompeii, we drove to Sorrento which is beautiful.  With an hour and a half of free time, we had a wood fired pizza for lunch at Ristorante La Lanterna, which was excellent, we then did some shopping before heading back to the bus.

We were supposed to leave Naples port, but were delayed.  It turned out that they had found a bomb from WWII in the port while they were working that day and we had to wait for the authorities to come and disarm it.

We drove to a local farm in the hills where 2-3 women started a cooperative, bought four acres and have now added two more acres on the hillside.  They use every inch of land and grow fruits, nuts, olives, and make mozzarella cheese.  It was very interesting.  They gave us samples of the mozzarella with tomatoes and prosciutto with herbs, wine and lemon cake.  I bought a bottle of lemon crème from them.


Rome, Italy

It takes 1.5 hours to go each direction from the ship into Rome.  We took a tour of the Coliseum, Glories of the Gladiators.  It was unbelievable!   It was hard to imagine that the Coliseum was only used 4-6 times a year for special events.  When they discontinued using the facility, people began  taking the building materials to build homes and some actually lived within the walls of the Coliseum.  From there we walked to the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.  Rome is very walkable, but the signage is not easy to follow.


Toulon, France

This was a beautiful port.  We took a boat into the city from the ship which took about 15-20 minutes.  We visited the Maritime Museum which offered phones where you choose your language.  You would then enter the number of the display and it explained what you were looking at.  This was an excellent museum.  From there we walked around and visited the St. Louis Church, walked past the Cathedral and ended at the Provencal Market.

The Market was about 3-4 of our city blocks and had everything for sale.  The sights and scents were wonderful and very fascinating.

This was a fabulous trip.  My favorite places were Split and Pompeii/Sorrento.


Tuscan Adventure

Agent: Kristi “Ali” Macedanz
Office: Woodbury
Direct Dial: 651-789-8821

Travel Dates: September 9 – 18, 2012

The trip was wonderful. We had simply an amazing time and had no issues with any of the details of our itinerary.

Here’s a rundown that I thought other traveler’s may find helpful:

The Basics

• The Amsterdam airport is a dream to go through. Clean, modern and efficient. Friendly, too.

• Travelers Checks are no longer of use when travelling in Europe. Check to make sure that your credit card doesn’t charge huge fees and be sure to let them know that you are travelling abroad.

• Many Italians speak English, but not all by any means. Learn a few words before going and download Google Translate on your smart phone.

• Call your phone company to check on overseas options and packages for data, phone and text. Personally, I found the data the most useful. Barely used the phone and text.

• Trip Advisor has a great app to help with finding food and things to do nearby. Highly recommend.

• Festivals and community events seem to start about 2 hours later than advertised. However, concerts begin on time.


• As of 2012, GPS on iPhones (4S on 4G) is spotty at times, especially when travelling far from a metro area. Suggest the purchase of area maps if driving. We used a combination of GPS and a map of Tuscany.

• Check out parking areas and garages before going on the trip. Some take reservations. There are a lot of areas in cities where driving is not allowed except by permit and the garages can help with this as they are usually located inside the historic zone.

• If you park on the street, fold your mirrors in!


• Florence: N4U Guesthouse: A very nice, clean place. Young, enthusiastic proprietors. The hotel is a 4-floor walkup, which we knew beforehand. We were fine with this, but I wouldn’t suggest it for older people or those with health issues. The bathrooms were private but not attached to the room. Again, fine, but something to note. PERFECT location. Right near the Duomo; in the center of everything. Very lively area at night, but no issues with noise.

• Casole d’Elsa: Antico Borgo Poggiarello: Lovely group of old farmhouses. Very secluded. Fantastic food and wine. We thought that this would be a nice place for a small wedding or party as everyone would have their own little house. Not much near here except for the AMAZING Porcini Mushroom Festival that we attended. Highly recommend the festival and the guesthouses.

• Near Montalcino: Casa Bolsinina: A large home with simply lovely owners who welcome you like family. Again, the food and wine here were fantastic. The countryside was stunning and it was close to some out-of-the-way, less touristy towns to explore. Rodo and I thought that this would be a nice place to spend a few days for simple relaxation.

• Siena: Locanda Di San Martino: This place was just fine. Nothing spectacular, but a perfect location and just right for the price. Clean, spacious rooms. Comfortable bed. No parking nearby. Nice continental breakfast.

• Perugia: Hotel Brufani Palace: Luxury. Just beautiful. A true hotel with modern conveniences. Fantastic spa in the under-cellar with an amazing pool, sauna and steam room. The staff was extremely helpful. 5-stars for customer service! Parking available in front of the hotel or in their garage. Great location in the historic part of the city within walking distance of everything. Wish we’d stayed here longer 🙂

• Rome: Relais Teatro Argentina: Again, location was just right. Within walking distance of practically everything. The owners were terrific – welcoming and very helpful with suggestions of what to do and where to eat. Again, there was no elevator here – only a 2-floor walkup, though. Beautiful, spacious rooms. Nice continental breakfast served in your room.

Restaurants of note

• Florence: Vecchio Mercato (Piazza del Mercato Centrale): Laid-back and friendly with outdoor seating. Has a spectacular bistecca fiorentina.

• Siena: Zest Ristorante: Offers outdoor seating with an amazing view of the back of the Duomo. Friendliest staff ever. We actually ended up going out for drinks with 2 of the servers the next night. The food is beautiful and delicious. One thing to note is that it is not local Tuscan but Southern-style food. Eat there.

• Perugia: Pizzeria Mediterranea: THE BEST PIZZA I HAVE EVER HAD. Period.

• Rome: Sophia: Hands down our favorite restaurant in Italy. We went there for lunch one day. It was so good, we made reservations for dinner! Fresh, mouth-watering food. More modern-style with veggies and twists on older recipes. The two sisters who own it are bright and beautiful. I would go back to Rome just to eat here.

Mushroom Festival
(Sagra del Fungo, Pievescola)
We arrived in Pievescola for the Sagra del Fungo (Porcini mushroom festival) a bit early. It had been billed as starting at 4. We learned that everything starts about 2 hours later than the advertised time.

We sat around in a little bar sipping Spritzes until we saw some people lining up at a little kiosk across the square. We hopped in line and gazed at the menu written on a large piece of paper. We ordered what we thought was an obscene amount of food — all incorporating mushrooms. Once Rudy finished with the list, the guy asked us what we would like for our mushroom course!

Our dinner:
Tortino di Funghi – mushroom tart with a parmigiano sauce
Ravioli di verza con fegatini e porcini – home made ravioli with chicken livers and porcini
Stinco di maiale con cretia di porcini e patate al forno – pork shank with porcini and potatoes
Bistecca di vitello – Veal steak (red, not white – they don’t keep the babies in boxes there)
Oh… and don’t forget the mushroom course: Funghi alla griglia

This was some of the most amazing food I have ever and it was at a festival. Food for the masses done right! The most decadent mushroom feast ever.

Perfume: Aqua Flor
(Borgo Santa Croce 6, 50122 Florence)

An AMAZING profumeria where they make everything in-house. We spent about 2 hours here talking about perfume, its history, and their business as well as trying on scents. These are small batch perfumes not made in mass. This is the place to get yourself something truly unique and beautiful. Rudy and I each came home with a scent (perfume is not just for women there) and we get compliments on them every time we wear them.

Thank you so much for helping organize an amazing experience. We’re looking forward to the next, which I will be sending you an email about presently.

Best wishes,

Clare G., Minneapolis, MN.

Pacific Princess Mediterranean Cruise – Client Review


The cruise was wonderful for us!! The weather was good all the way, about 60-75F most of the time. This was the first time we’ve travelled on a smaller ship, about 670 passengers and 300 crew. Other times we’ve been on ships with 2000 – 3000 passengers and + 400 crew. It certainly wasn’t as hectic on the smaller ship as the larger ships. Getting on and off the ship at each stop was much easier and less crowded. The dining areas didn’t seem as crowded, nor the entertainment areas. At the same time, each of these areas was not as big either. There may not have been as many activities on this smaller ship as there would be on a larger ship either. Although I’m sure that’s a direct factor of size of the ship.

It’s tough to say which was our favorite port stop. Each had their own delights. I’d have to say Yalta was one of the better stops for us. It wasn’t a huge town and so wasn’t as busy. It was a beautiful setting with mountains in the back, forest nearby and the coast. The history of the Yalta Conference, WWII, Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt getting together made history come alive a bit more. We didn’t see much of the city but got to see the palaces where each of these leaders stayed and met to make major decisions of WWII. I think the city may not have been as easy to walk around since it was a bit more hilly than other places. From our bus tour I didn’t see any central place with many shops for tourists. Maybe it was a different part of the city.

We enjoyed Istanbul, Santorini and Naples/Sorrento as port stops also, probably in that order but it’s a close call. The least favorite was Constanta, Romania. There was very little to see or do there. We did walk around the city but found it very dull. Admittedly it was a Sunday but we didn’t see very much available to see or do. This city also had the fewest possible excursions to offer. We heard several people on the ship wonder why the ship even stopped there. I think some people would have wanted to ship to forget about Constanta and spend an extra day in another port, such as Santorini, Naples or elsewhere.

There is one thing that our group found a bit perplexing. Our ship had left Santorini, Greece headed to Sorrento, Italy. We had a day at sea. That evening (the night before stopping at Sorrento) it rained about an hour and was windy. In the early morning (about 6 am) an announcement came from the Captain saying he felt the wind was too much to stop at Sorrento. We would have to take tender boats from the ship to the docks at Sorrento. As a result the Captain sailed a bit further to Naples where we parked along the dock area. We docked in naples about 8 am. The weather there was cloudy but certainly not too windy. We could see Sorrento from where we docked in Naples. What seemed puzzling to us was why the Captain bypassed Sorrento for Naples. We didn’t think it was that windy in Naples, nor did the water seem rough. The couple from England that was with us said this was their third trip in the Mediterranean where they were supposed to stop in Sorrento but went to Naples instead.

I will have to say that the Skip-the-Line tour of the Vatican Museum was well worth the money. The lines to get in were long (at 10 am) even though this was probably past the peak tourist season. Our guide was very good and got us in right away. it was a lot of walking and standing on hard floors though. Regardless it would have been a lot more time and a lot more standing if we didn’t have those Skip-the-Line tickets.

We enjoyed the three major cities, Athens, Istanbul and Rome!! Any one of those would be worth spending more time. This cruise gave us a taste of each one of them.

Both hotels, Fresh Hotel in Athens and Domus Romana in Rome were clean, quiet, safe and in a good area for us.

Thanks for your help!!

Brian and Barb K. & Charlie & Cecelia B.